Dave Weigel over at Slate makes an observation that Wisconsin Polls have not been very good at all:
In 2004, five polls were conducted before the Wisconsin primary. Four of them put Edwards below 20 percent. Edwards actually won 34 percent, nearly defeating John Kerry. (A fluke for poll junkies: Zogby was the one who got closest to the actual result.)
Then came the Clinton-Obama contest, which looked nothing like that. Hillary Clinton had lost Super Tuesday on delegates, and was struggling to survive a month of unfriendly primaries. (She would eventually bounce back in Ohio and Texas.) Wisconsin looked like the best possible place for her to cut Barack Obama’s advantage.
Most polling showed a single-digit race; the best Obama result, from Public Policy Polling, gave him a 13-point lead. She campaigned there; he campaigned there. On election day Obama won by 17 points, sweeping every congressional district and 62 of 72 counties.
To hear Weigel tell it, Wisconsin is kind of like New Hampshire, only with a lot of cheese.
What’s the key to Wisconsin’s polling volatility? Independents. They can vote in either party’s primary and predicting where and how they’ll turn out. In the 2008 Wisconsin Democratic Primary, Democrats voted for Obama over Clinton 53-46%, but Independents voted 64-33% and accounted for 28% of the Democratic Primary Vote. Independents made up 23% of the Republican Primary electorate and actually went for McCain by only a 47-38% margin while Republicans voted for McCain 58-36% over Mike Huckabee in the waving of the surrender flag to the 2008 Mr. Inevitable.
In a previous post, I dismissed the possibility that 40% of the Republican Primary turnout might be Independents or Democrats based on 2008′s exit poll, but what I failed to take into account was the sheer drawing power of the Democratic Contests for Independents. The Democratic Primary drew 2.77 times the numbers of voters. What that means is that there are around four times the number of Independents available who could show up and vote. If Independents only double their numbers, they could make up 46% of the Republican Primary vote.
This is an interesting point as Public Policy Polling‘s latest poll shows Santorum with a lead among Independents over Mitt Romney with Santorum up 37-34% among that group, and up by a larger margin about Democrats who made up 3% of the sample. The pollster suggested what we might be seeing is “Operation Hilarity” at work in which the Daily Kos urged liberals to vote in Republican Primaries for Rick Santorum. I guess when you’re Kos’ pollster, you think he’s agenda-setting for millions, but it’s simply not the case.
Given that only 3% of the sample is Democratic and a much larger number of voters are Independents, another explanation would be called for as to how Santorum might be appealing to Independents:
- Bowling: In a moment of inspiration, Santorum played a game of bowling which spawned “Rallies at the allies.” A candidate who grabs his bowling ball and heads out to the lanes while still holding his own is someone Wisconsinites can relate to.
- The Romney Attack Robocalls: Robocalls are annoying and Romney is the chief perpetrator of them on Wisconsin voters.
- Romney’s run the wrong attack ads: Romney has gone around Wisconsin leveling attacks on Santorum as “a friend to big labor.” The charge is scurrilous as Santorum has a 13% AFL-CIO rating during his entire Senate career (for comparison sake, my Senior Senate in Idaho has a 12% rating). If Romney loses in Wisconsin, we may consider the charge to be the stupidest possible accusation to make on the air in Wisconsin. For uniformed Republicans disgusted by two years of fighting with labor to defend hard won electoral victories from recall, the attacks have some resonance and Santorum hasn’t been able to spend money for a response ad. However, for Independents and Democrats who are friendly to big labor, Romney may have given them a good reason to go out and stick it to him, particularly when you’re dealing with a bowling machine like Santorum.
Of course, on Romney’s side, he’s got the fact that he’s further left with less defined views on the issues which (in theory) should attract Independent Voters. However, with all the polling done so far, tomorrow’s results remain a big question mark. Particularly as PPP finds Santorum leading 52-27% over Romney among voters who’ve made up their minds in the last few days. Things to watch:
- Will Independents and Democrats really turn out in large numbers for Santorum?
- Will Republicans turn out in numbers sufficient to overcome Democratic and Indy turnout to nominate Romney when voter enthusiasm hasn’t been there.
- The PPP poll showed Santorum holding a 12-point lead over Romney with Evangelicals. In 2008, in a much more perilous situation for Mike Huckabee, Huckabee won Evangelicals by 20. Will Santorum win Evangelicals by more than PPP and other pollsters show?
These are questions we won’t find in looking at unreliable polls. We’ll have to find our answers the old fashioned way: wait for the vote.